1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Conference News: Social Knowledge and International Policy Making: Exploring the Linkages

6 Jan 2005



A question often asked of United Nations (UN) agencies and their research activities is whether the knowledge they generate is useful for international policy making. Implicit in this broad question are others concerning the relevance, quality, dissemination and impact of research.
  • Are researchers addressing issues and questions of concern to policy makers?
  • Do research findings reach policy makers and inform policy making both internationally and at the country level?
  • Who conducts UN research, and how does research commissioned by international and bilateral agencies interact with researchers in developing countries and affect their research agenda?
  • Is UN research sufficiently independent and critical?
  • Can UN research add anything to that being undertaken within the Bretton Woods institutions, universities and non-governmental organizations?
Underlying such questions is often the erroneous assumption that knowledge and policy stand in a direct or unproblematic relation to each other. To understand how research may influence policy it is necessary to examine how the relationship is mediated by politics, discourse, subjectivity and learning. Also important is to understand the implications of new institutional developments associated with networking, public-private partnerships, “knowledge agencies” and organizational learning.

To address these questions, UNRISD organized a conference to examine the linkages between research, activism and policy making related to social development issues. The conference, which also commemorated UNRISD’s fortieth anniversary, set out to assess the intellectual contribution of UN research; its impact on policy making; technical aspects related to the relevance, coordination and dissemination of research; the nature of relations between international development research and the academic and activist communities, particularly in developing countries; and the current and future status of independent and critical research within the UN system. This report summarizes some of the main discussions and debates, drawing on both oral presentations and written contributions. The conference agenda, and a list of speakers and chairpersons, are included.

Conference News is available free of charge from UNRISD.